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3.5 Initial Child Protection Conferences

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter is consistent with the recommendations of the West Midlands Safeguarding Children Network in relation to Improving the Participation of Children in Child Protection.

In Herefordshire, see also the procedure on Child Protection Conferences in the Herefordshire Children’s Services Procedures Manual which contains local documentation.

In Telford and Wrekin, see also Child Protection Conference Minutes Template

DEFINITIONS

Timescale: Where a Section 47 Enquiry determines that an Initial Child Protection Conference should be held, the Conference must be held within a maximum of 15 days of the Strategy Discussion or, where more than one has taken place, the Strategy Discussion at which the decision to initiate the Section 47 Enquiry was made.

The urgency of the situation, however, may dictate that the timescale is shorter.

AMENDMENT

In October 2013, a link was added in Section 2, When an Initial Child Protection Conference is convened to the section on Booking of Initial Child Protection Conferences in the chapter on Strategy Discussions/Strategy Meetings in the Herefordshire Children’s Services Procedures Manual.


Contents

  1. Purpose of Initial Child Protection Conference  
  2. When an Initial Child Protection Conference is convened 
  3. Timing of Initial Child Protection Conference 
  4. Who Should Attend?
  5. Quorate Conferences 
  6. Enabling Parental Participation 
  7. Excluding Parents or Restricting their Participation 
  8. Enabling Children’s Participation 
  9. Responsibilities of Social Worker  
  10. Responsibilities of Other Professionals 
  11. Responsibilities of Conference Chairperson  
  12. If a Child is made Subject to a Child Protection Plan
  13. If a Child is Assessed as not Being in Need of a Child Protection Plan
  14. Minutes of Child Protection Conferences
  15. Pre-Birth Conferences 


1. Purpose of Initial Child Protection Conference

The Initial Child Protection Conference brings together the child (where appropriate), family members and those professionals most involved with the child and family, following Section 47 Enquiries.

Its purpose is to:

  1. Bring together and analyse, in an inter-agency setting, the information that has been obtained about the child’s developmental needs, and the parents’ or carers’ capacity to respond to these needs to ensure the child’s health and development within the context of their wider family and environment;
  2. Consider the evidence presented to the conference, make judgments about the likelihood of the child suffering Significant Harm in future and decide whether the child is at continuing risk of suffering Significant Harm; and
  3. Decide what future action is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child, how that action will be taken forward, and with what intended outcomes.


2. When an Initial Child Protection Conference is Convened

An Initial Child Protection Conference must be convened when it is believed that a child may continue to suffer or to be at risk of suffering Significant Harm.

The conference must consider all the children in the household, even if concerns are only being expressed about one child.

The Children and Young People’s Services manager (the level of manager will be determined locally) is responsible for authorising the decision to convene an Initial Child Protection Conference and the reasons for calling the conference must be recorded.

An Initial Child Protection Conference will normally be convened under the following circumstances:

  1. Where a Section 47 Enquiry indicates that a child is at risk of suffering or may continue to suffer significant harm; OR
  2. Where a child who is the subject of a Child Protection Plan moves into the area, unless the other authority is to retain responsibility for the case (see also Children Moving across Local Authority Boundaries Procedure).

The relevant Children and Young People’s Services manager will take carefully any decision not to proceed to a Child Protection Conference where it is known that a child has suffered Significant Harm. Those professionals and agencies who are most involved with the child and family and those who have taken part in the Section 47 Enquiry have the right to request that Children and Young People’s Services convene a Child Protection Conference if they have serious concerns that a child’s welfare may not otherwise be adequately safeguarded. Any such request that is supported by a senior manager, a Named Professional or a Designated Professional, should normally be agreed. Where there remain differences of view over the necessity for a conference in a specific case, every effort should be made to resolve them through discussion and explanation - see Resolution of Professional Disagreements Procedure.

In Herefordshire, see the section on Booking of Initial Child Protection Conferences in the Procedure on Strategy Discussions/Strategy Meetings in the Herefordshire Children’s Services Procedures Manual.


3. Timing of Initial Child Protection Conference

The Initial Child Protection Conference should take place within 15 working days of the:

  • Strategy Discussion/Meeting or last Strategy Discussion/Meeting if more than one has been held, i.e. the point at which the decision to initiate the Section 47 Enquiry was made; or
  • Notification by another local authority that a child subject to a Child Protection Plan has moved into the area.

The Initial Child Protection Conference should, where possible, be held before the expiry of an Emergency Protection Order, if further legal action is planned.

For the timing of pre birth Initial Child Protection Conferences, see Section 15.1


4. Who Should Attend?

See Section 6 - Enabling Parental Participation

See Section 8 - Enabling Children’s Participation

Those attending conferences should be there because they have a significant contribution to make, arising from professional expertise, knowledge of the child or family or both. The Children and Young People’s Services manager should consider whether to seek advice from, or have present, a medical professional who can present the medical information in a manner which can be understood by conference attendees and enable such information to be evaluated from a sound evidence base. There should be sufficient information and expertise available – through personal representation and written reports – to enable the conference to make an informed decision about what action is necessary to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child, and to make realistic and workable proposals for taking that action forward.

At the same time a conference that is larger than it needs to be can inhibit discussion and intimidate the child and family members. Those who have a relevant contribution to make may include:

  • The child and/or his/her representative/advocate;
  • Family members (including the wider family);
  • Children and Young People’s Services staff who have led and been involved in an assessment of the child and family;
  • Foster carers (current or former) and/or their link workers - NB In Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin, foster carers’ link workers will attend, rather than foster carers;
  • Residential care staff;
  • Professionals involved with the child, e.g. health visitors, midwife, school nurse, Children’s Guardian, Paediatrician, school staff, early years staff, the GP, NHS Direct and staff in youth justice system where relevant;
  • Professionals with expertise in the particular type of harm suffered by the child or in the child’s particular condition – e.g. a disability or long term illness;
  • Those involved in investigations (e.g. the Police Public Protection Unit);
  • Legal services - if it is anticipated that legal advice will be required;
  • NSPCC or other involved voluntary organisations;
  • A representative of the Armed Services, in cases where there is a service connection.

A professional observer can only attend with the prior consent of the Conference Chairperson and the parents and the child/ren, and must not take part in discussions or decision-making. There will only be one observer at any conference. It is the responsibility of the professional requesting the attendance of the observer to seek the permission of the parents and the child/ren at least one day before the conference. It is also expected that the observer will have met the parents and the child/ren prior to the conference.

Professionals who are invited but unable to attend for unavoidable reasons should:

  • Arrange wherever possible for another agency representative to attend;
  • Inform the conference administrator and Conference Chairperson;
  • Submit a written report.

The time of day at which a conference is convened should be determined to facilitate attendance of the parents and the child/ren and key contributors.


5. Quorate Conferences

The primary principle for determining quoracy is that there should be sufficient agencies present to enable safe decisions to be made in the individual circumstances.

Minimum representation is the social worker and at least two other LSCB partner agencies. Preferably the other agencies should have had direct contact with the child and family. 

Where the welfare and safety of the child requires it, the Conference Chairperson may decide to proceed with the conference despite lack of agency representation. 

Where a conference is not quorate, any decision made will be regarded as provisional and the Conference Chairperson will write to the agencies invited but not represented seeking their views in writing within an identified timescale. The letter should include the reports provided to the conference and any other relevant information. The final decision and recommendation will then be confirmed in writing to all relevant agencies, the child (if of sufficient age and understanding) and their advocate and parents as soon as possible.

Alternatively, if the Conference Chairperson deems it necessary, another conference date must be set immediately. 


6. Enabling Parental Participation

All parents and persons with Parental Responsibility must be invited to conferences (unless exclusion is justified as described below). Parents will be encouraged to contribute to conferences; usually by attending, unless it is likely to prejudice the welfare of the child. 

See Exclusion Criteria, Section 7.2.

6.1

Role of the Social worker

The social worker must facilitate the constructive involvement of the parents by ensuring in advance of the conference that they are given sufficient information and practical support to make a meaningful contribution.

Invitations for the parent(s) to attend the conference should be conveyed verbally by the social worker and will be confirmed in writing. 

The social worker must explain to parents/carers:

  • The purpose of the conference;
  • Who will attend and their roles;
  • The way in which it will operate;
  • What it will mean if their child is deemed to require a Child Protection Plan; and
  • The complaints process.

The parents should be provided with written information regarding the right to bring a friend, supporter (including an advocate) or solicitor (in the role of supporter), details of any local advice and advocacy services and the Complaints in Relation to Child Protection Conferences Procedure.

The social worker should also provide a copy of the Attendance of Solicitors at Child Protection Conferences, should the parents wish to bring their own solicitors.

The social worker should arrange to share and explain their report with the parents prior to the conference and seek their views. Where practicable and appropriate, the report should be translated into the parents’ preferred language or medium, e.g. Braille or tape.

Provision should be made to ensure that all parents/carers are enabled to participate, including whether they need assistance with transport and/or childcare to enable their attendance. 

Those for whom English is not a first language must be offered and provided with assistance to fully participate, including an interpreter, if required. A family member should not be expected to act as an interpreter of spoken or signed language.

Parents with learning difficulties should be encouraged to use an advocacy service or bring a supporter.

If parents do not wish to attend the conference they must be provided with opportunities to contribute their views. The social worker must facilitate this by:

  • The use of an advocate or supporter to attend on behalf of the parent (subject to the Conference Chairperson’s agreement);
  • Enabling the parent to write, or tape, or use drawings to represent their views;
  • Meeting the Conference Chairperson prior to the conference;
  • Agreeing that the social worker, or any other professional, will express their views.

The level and manner of the supporter’s involvement in the conference will be negotiated beforehand with the Conference Chairperson. Supporters may seek clarification of information given by a conference member through the Conference Chairperson, but they will not be allowed to question conference members directly. 

Explicit consideration should be given to the potential of conflict between family members and possible need for children or adults to speak without other family members present.

6.2

Role of the Conference Chairperson

The Independent Conference Chairperson will ensure that the conference is conducted in line with the procedures and guidance set out by Shropshire’s, Herefordshire and Worcestershire Safeguarding Children Boards.

Immediately prior to the conference, the Conference Chairperson should meet with any family members to ensure they understand the purpose and the process of the conference. This may, where the potential for conflict exists, involve separate meetings with the different parties.


7. Excluding Parents or Restricting their Participation

7.1

Requests to Exclude/Restrict Participation

In circumstances where it may be necessary to exclude one or more family members from part or all of a conference, the request to exclude or restrict a parent’s participation should be discussed with the Conference Chairperson and confirmed in writing if possible at least 3 days in advance.

The agency concerned must indicate which of the grounds it believes is met and the information or evidence the request is based on. The Conference Chairperson must consider the representation carefully and may need legal advice.

Before making a decision, the Conference Chairperson may obtain and consider the views of other professionals invited. 

7.2

Criteria for Excluding/Restricting Participation

The decision to restrict or exclude a parent’s participation should be made according to the following criteria:

  • The need (agreed in advance with the Conference Chairperson) for members to receive confidential information that would otherwise be unavailable, such as information about a third party or criminal investigation;
  • Indications that the presence of the parent may seriously prejudice the welfare of the child;
  • Sufficient evidence that a parent/carer may behave in such a way as to disrupt the conference such as violence, threats of violence, racist, or other forms of discriminatory or oppressive behaviour or being in an unfit state e.g. through drug, alcohol consumption or acute mental health difficulty;
  • A child’s request that the parent/person with Parental Responsibility or carer is not present while s/he is present;
  • Conflicts between different family members who may not be able to attend at the same time e.g. in situations of domestic abuse;
  • The need to present information to the conference which, if shared with certain family members, might increase the risk to the child;
  • Where attendance by a known, alleged or suspected perpetrator may threaten or otherwise place the child at risk;
  • Where their presence may prejudice any legal proceedings or Police investigation, for example because they have yet to be interviewed or because bail conditions restrict their attendance;
  • Where there is a serious threat of violence toward any person at the conference, whether family member or professional.

Exclusion at one conference is not reason enough in itself for exclusion at further conferences.

The possibility that the parent may be prosecuted for an offence against a child is not in itself a reason for exclusion although in these circumstances the Conference Chairperson may take advice from the Police about the implications arising from an alleged perpetrator’s attendance.

The decision of the Conference Chairperson over matters of exclusion/restriction of participation is final.

7.3

Communicating the Decision

If the Conference Chairperson makes a decision to exclude or restrict the participation of any person, the decision should be communicated in writing to the person concerned, unless a decision is made that they should not be informed at all of the conference (see below).

The letter should include: 

  • The reason for exclusion or restriction;
  • An explanation of any other methods the person has open to them to ensure their views and wishes are considered;
  • How the person will be told the outcome of the conference;
  • The Complaints Procedure.

Any exclusion period should be for the minimum duration necessary and the decision to exclude must be clearly recorded in the conference minutes.

Those excluded should usually be provided with a copy of the social worker’s report to the conference and be provided with the opportunity to have their views recorded and presented to the conference.

Where participation is restricted for part of the conference because of the need (agreed in advance with the Conference Chairperson) for members to receive confidential information that would otherwise be unavailable, such as legal advice or information about a third party or criminal investigation, it is not necessary to confirm the reasons for doing so in writing to the person concerned.

7.4

Closed Sessions/Suspensions

If, in planning a conference, it becomes clear to the Conference Chairperson that there may be conflict of interests between the children and parents, the conference should be planned so that the welfare of the child can remain paramount.

This may mean arranging for the child and parents to participate in separate parts of the conference and make separate waiting arrangements.

It may also become clear in the course of a conference, that its effectiveness will be seriously impaired by the presence of an individual. In these circumstances, the Conference Chairperson may ask him or her to leave.

Where a parent/carer is on bail, or subject to an active police investigation, it is the responsibility of the Conference Chairperson to ensure that the Police can fully present their information and views and also that the parent/carer participates as fully as circumstances allow.

The decision of the Conference Chairperson over such matters is final.

Where a parent/carer attends only part of a conference as a result of exclusion, s/he will receive the record of the conference. The Conference Chairperson should decide if the entire record is provided or only that part attended by the excluded parent/carer.


8. Enabling Children’s Participation

The social worker’s manager and the Conference Chairperson have significant roles to play in ensuring that the participation of children in Child Protection Conferences is always actively considered at each stage of the intervention. 

8.1

Involving the Child

The child must be kept fully informed and involved throughout the Section 47 Enquiry. Subject to consideration about age and understanding the child should be invited to attend and to bring an advocate, friend or supporter if s/he wishes. Before a conference is held, the purpose of the conference, who will attend and the way in which it will operate, should always be explained to a child of sufficient age and understanding. Where the child does not speak English well enough to understand the discussions and express their views, an interpreter should be used. All children and young people should be given a leaflet which explains about conferences, Child Protection Plans, reviews and the Complaints Procedures.

Children and young people should always be asked their views and assisted to ensure that their views are conveyed to the conference on their behalf if they are not attending. This should include their wishes in relation to the outcome.

8.2

Criteria for Attendance of Child at Conference

The key considerations are:

  • Is the child of sufficient age, maturity and understanding to be able to participate in the process?
  • What are the parents’ views about the child’s proposed presence?
  • Is inclusion assessed to be of benefit to the child?

The test of ‘sufficient understanding’, is partly a function of age and partly the child’s capacity to understand. It is expected that children over the age of 12 will be invited.

In order to establish her/his wish with respect to attendance the child must be first provided with a full and clear explanation of the purpose, conduct, membership of the conference and offered the provision of an independent advocate – see 8.6.

Written information translated into the appropriate language should be provided to those able to read and an alternative medium, e.g. an audio tape, offered to those who cannot read.

A declared wish not to attend a conference (having been given such an explanation) must be respected. The child should continue to receive full information from reports prior to the conference and feedback after the meeting.

Consideration should be given to the views of and impact on parent/s of their child’s proposed attendance. However, where there is a conflict between the wishes of the child and the views of the parents, the child’s interests should be the priority. The Conference Chairperson’s decision will be final.

Consideration must be given to the impact of the conference on the child, e.g. if he or she has a learning difficulty. Separate attendance should be considered where a parent may be hostile and/or attribute responsibility to the child.

8.3

Decision that a child should or should not attend

The presumption will be in favour of the children’s attendance. The Conference Chairperson should ensure that all children are invited when appropriate and that plans are put in place to facilitate their participation. In situations where the social worker feels this would not be appropriate, s/he should consult with the Conference Chairperson in order to seek their views and make a decision.

A decision that a child should attend for only part of the conference may be made, based on the criteria set out in 7.2 or as set out in 8.2.

Any decision that a child should not attend the conference should be made using the following criteria:

  • The child’s age, understanding and emotional wellbeing indicate that attendance would be inappropriate;
  • The conference would be unable to fulfil its own aims of protection due to the disruptive behaviour of the child;
  • Criminal charges or court appearances of the parent are pending and the child is to be a witness;
  • Attendance would not be in the child’s best interests.

Any decision not to invite the child or to restrict the child’s participation should be recorded in the minutes and in the child’s records, with the reasons for doing so. 

8.4

Indirect participation

If it is decided that the child should not attend or to restrict his/her participation, every effort should be made by the social worker to obtain and present the views and wishes of the child, which can include:

  • A submission by letter, email, text message, a picture, an audio or videotape – prepared alone or with support;
  • The child’s independent advocate (see 8.6) or other professional speaking on the child’s behalf (for example, a person with specialist skills or knowledge);
  • The child meeting the Conference Chairperson before the conference to share their views.
8.5

Direct participation

If the decision is that the child is to attend the conference, then the social worker should:

  • Identify and agree a supporter/independent advocate with the child (see 8.6);
  • Ensure that the child has an opportunity to discuss any concerns that he/she may have about attendance;
  • Explain to the child who will be at the conference, their roles and responsibilities in the meeting, the information likely to be discussed and the possible outcomes and provide age appropriate written information covering these areas;
  • Decide with the child the extent to which he/she wishes to participate and how his/her wishes and views will be presented;
  • Share and discuss the content of the social work report for the Conference as appropriate;
  • Give an explanation as to why the child may not be able to remain for the whole of the conference, i.e. for the sharing of sensitive information.

If the child is attending the Conference it is the responsibility of the Conference Chairperson to:

  • Clarify with the social worker what information will be available to the child both before and during the conference;
  • Meet with the child and independent advocate/supporter separately to the parents prior to the conference and explain to the child that his/her views will be clearly heard but that these views will be considered alongside others in reaching any decisions;
  • Explain to the child if there is to be a section of the conference when they will not be able to participate and at what point this will take place. If the child is to be asked to leave the conference at any point, the Conference Chairperson must ensure that arrangements have been made to accommodate the child’s needs, e.g. where they will sit and wait, and who will support them;
  • Facilitate introductions for the child at the start of the conference, ensuring that the language is appropriate and the conference is managed in a way that is not oppressive to the child;
  • Ensure that the child has sufficient support to present their wishes and views during the conference;
  • Monitor the child’s welfare throughout the conference, and arrange for them to have a break if necessary;
  • Ensure that the child is informed of the decision and recommendations of the conference;
  • Write personally to the child to confirm the decision and recommendations;
  • Ensure that the conference minutes adequately reflects the child’s contribution.

When a child attends the conference the Conference Chairperson should ensure that all others invited are informed and it is the responsibility of all professionals to:

  • Make it clear which parts of the report can be shared with the child;
  • Share and discuss the report with the child prior to the conference if appropriate;
  • Use language that is understandable to both the child and their family;
  • Discuss with the Conference Chairperson and the social worker any potential difficulties arising from the child’s participation.

It is essential that planning takes place prior to the conference to ensure that the practical arrangements are suitable. The social worker should in discussion with the Conference Chairperson:

  • Identify a venue where the child will feel comfortable;
  • Identify and meet any special needs;
  • Arrange the services of an interpreter;
  • Arrange the timing of the conference to minimise disruption to the child’s normal routine;
  • Ensure that time is available before the start for the child and his/her independent advocate to meet with the Conference Chairperson;
  • Arrange transport to and from the venue;
  • Identify a separate, comfortable waiting area for the child and the supporter (with suitable refreshments and accessible toilets) and ensure that the child is not left to wait on their own.
8.6

The child’s independent advocate

The social worker should inform the child about any advocacy service which is available and support them to make contact or contact the advocacy service on behalf of the child if the child so wishes. The advocate should only be given information which is available to the child.

The advocate may attend the conference with the child, subject to the child’s consent. The advocate will meet with the child to determine the child’s preferred method of communication to express his/her views and will support the child as they have agreed. 

 The advocate will not be present for any part of the conference where information is presented which will not be made available to the child.

8.7

Support to the child after the Conference

The Conference Chairperson or the social worker (the child’s choice) should meet with the child and the advocate as soon as possible after the conference to:

  • Feedback and discuss the outcomes of the conference and to allow the child to ask any questions about the decision made;
  • Identify what support they want informally through family, friends and the professional network;
  • Discuss the role and purpose of the Core Group and the part the child or young person can take in this;
  • Identify what actions and outcomes the child believes should be included in any plan of intervention. This would include the Child Protection Plan or the Child in Need Plan.


9. Responsibilities of the Social Worker Before the Conference

9.1

General Responsibilities

The social worker is responsible for ensuring the participation of parents and children in the conference as described in Section 6 and Section 8.

9.2

Report to Conference

The social worker should provide to the conference a typed, signed and dated report, which must be counter-signed by their manager.

The relevant pro forma must be used for the conference report. 

Information on all children in the household must be provided and the report should be clear about which children are the subjects of the conference. 

For an Initial Child Protection Conference, the report should be based on the Social Work Assessment to date and should include: 

  • Details of parents and significant adults, indicating who holds Parental Responsibility;
  • The concerns leading to the Strategy Discussion, the reasons for the decision to initiate the Section 47 Enquiry and any other recommendations made;
  • The outcome of these enquiries;
  • The date/s when the child was seen by the Lead Social Worker during the Section 47 Enquiry, if the child was seen alone and if not, who was present and for what reason;

  • A chronology of significant events and agency and professional contacts with the family;
  • Information on the child’s current and past health, educational and developmental needs;
  • Information on the capacity of the parent(s) and other family members to ensure that the child is safe from harm and to respond to the child’s developmental needs, within the wider family and environmental context;
  • Information on the family history and both the current and past family functioning;
  • The expressed views, wishes and feelings of the child, parents and other family members;
  • An analysis of the information obtained and an assessment using the Assessment Framework dimensions and referring to current research as appropriate, to reach a judgement whether the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm and how best to meet his or her developmental needs. This analysis should address:
    • How the child's strengths and difficulties are impacting on each other;
    • How the parenting strengths and difficulties are affecting each other;
    • How the family and environmental factors are affecting each other,
    • How the parenting that is provided for the child is affecting the child's health and development both in terms of resilience and protective factors, and vulnerability and risk factors; and
    • How the family and environmental factors are impacting on parenting and/or the child directly; and the local authority's recommendation to the conference.
  • Recommendations for the action necessary to ensure the child’s future safety, including whether the child needs to be subject of a Child Protection Plan, and to ensure his/her developmental needs are met.

The report should be provided to parents and children (to the extent that it is believed to be in their interests) sufficiently in advance, but at least three days before the Initial Child Protection Conference. This will enable parents and children to understand the concerns, prepare for the conference and seek legal advice and/or support as preferred. Any factual inaccuracies should be identified and the report amended accordingly and areas of disagreement noted. Comments or suggestions made by the child/parents as a result of seeing the report must be included or conveyed verbally to the conference.

Where the report is to be shared with the child or young person, consideration should be given to how to deal with the issue of sensitive information of which the child is not yet aware.

In exceptional circumstances where confidential information cannot be shared with the child or parent(s) beforehand, the social worker should seek guidance from their manager, who may wish to consult the Conference Chairperson and seek legal advice.

Where necessary, the reports should be translated into the relevant language or medium, taking account of the language and any sensory or learning difficulties of the child/parents.

The report should be provided to the Conference Chairperson at least three working days prior to the Initial Child Protection Conference with copies for all those invited.


10. Responsibilities of other Professionals/Agencies

10.1

General Responsibilities

All participants are responsible for the following:

  • To make attendance at conferences high priority;
  • To make available relevant information in a typed report to the conference (see 10.2) and contribute to the assessment of risk and decision-making process;
  • To confirm their attendance at the conference in advance;
  • Where it is not possible for them to attend the conference, to submit a written report and, wherever possible, arrange for a well-briefed agency representative to attend to speak to the report;
  • To ensure that reports and information to be presented by them at the conference have been shared with the child and parents beforehand;
  • In exceptional circumstances where confidential information cannot be shared with the child or parent(s) beforehand, they should seek guidance from their manager and must consult the Conference Chairperson prior to the conference;
  • To ensure that information is communicated/translated in the most appropriate way taking account of the language and any sensory or learning difficulties of the child or parents;
  • To ensure that they are clear about their role within the conference and the expectation that they will participate in the decision as to whether the child at continuing risk of Significant Harm and in need of a Child Protection Plan;
  • To ensure they have sufficient authority to commit their agency to full participation in any Child Protection Plan.
10.2

Professional/Agency Reports to Conference

All agencies that have participated in a Section 47 Enquiry or have relevant information about the child and/or family members should make this information available to the conference in a typed, dated and signed report. Sufficient copies should be provided to the conference.

The report should include details of the agency’s involvement with the child and family, and information concerning the agency’s knowledge of the child’s developmental needs and the capacity of the parents to meet the needs of their child within their family and environmental context.

The reports must address any known circumstances of all children in the household.

Where necessary, reports should be translated into the relevant language or medium, taking account of the language and any sensory or learning difficulties of the child/parents.

The reports should be shared with the parents and the child before the conference and any factual errors rectified. Reports should also be made available to the Conference Chairperson and/or social worker at least three working days in advance of the conference.

Where it is not possible for the author of the report to attend the conference, they should, wherever possible, arrange for a well-briefed agency representative to attend to speak to the report.

When no representative from an agency is able to attend the conference, the agency must ensure that their typed report is made available to the conference.


11. Responsibilities of the Conference Chairperson

A professional who is independent of operational or line management responsibilities for the case should chair the conference. The status of the Conference Chairperson should be sufficient to ensure inter-agency commitment to the conference and the Child Protection Plan. Wherever possible, the same person should also chair subsequent Child Protection Review Conferences in respect of a specific child. 

The responsibilities of the Conference Chairperson include:

  • Meeting the child and family members in advance, to ensure that they understand the purpose of the conference and what will happen;
  • Setting out the purpose of the conference to all present, determining the agenda and emphasising the confidential nature of the occasion;
  • Enabling all those present, and absent contributors, to make their full contribution to discussion and decision-making;
  • Ensuring that the conference takes the decision required of it in an informed, systematic and explicit way;
  • Being accountable to the Director of Children’s Services for the conduct of the conference.

The Conference Chairperson should be trained in the role and should have:

  • A good understanding and professional knowledge of children’s welfare and development, and best practice in working with children and families;
  • The ability to look objectively at, and assess the implications of, the evidence on which judgements should be based;
  • Skills in chairing meetings in a way that encourages constructive participation, while maintaining a clear focus on the welfare of the child and the decisions that have to be taken;
  • Knowledge and understanding of anti-discriminatory practice;
  • Knowledge of relevant legislation, including that relating to children’s services and human rights.
11.1

Before the Conference

The Conference Chairperson must consider the question of quoracy - see Section 5.

The responsibilities of the Conference Chairperson in relation to the participation of parents and children are set out in Section 6, Section 7 and Section 8.

If the parent(s) or the child brings an advocate/supporter, the Conference Chairperson will need to clarify the advocate/supporter’s role, ensuring that any solicitor who attends in this role is clear that he/she may support parent(s), clarify information but may not cross-examine any contributor – in accordance with the Protocol for Solicitors Attending Child Protection Conferences

11.2

At the Start of the Conference

At the start of the Conference, the Conference Chairperson will:

  • Set out the purpose of the Conference;
  • Confirm the agenda;
  • Emphasise the confidential nature of the meeting;
  • Confirm that information shared in the conference may be disclosed in court proceedings;
  • Address equal opportunities issues;
  • Confirm that sexist, racist, homophobic and threatening behaviour will not be tolerated;
  • Facilitate introductions;
  • Clarify the role of those present, including supporters of the family and any solicitors present;
  • Confirm the basic details of the child or children, e.g. name, date of birth.
11.3

During the Conference

The Conference Chairperson will ensure that:

  1. Parents have been given a reasonable opportunity to:
    1. Understand the purpose of the meeting and the role of all agencies involved in the protection of their children;
    2. Respond to and question any allegations or the opinions expressed by other participants;
    3. Contribute as fully as possible to the assessment and planning process;
    4. Play a part in helping to safeguard and promote their children’s welfare.
  2. The child or children present understand the purpose of the meeting and are supported to participate as they wish, and that the wishes and feelings of the child/ren (whether present or not) are clearly outlined and carefully considered;
  3. The conference maintains a focus on the welfare of the child or children;
  4. Consideration is given to the welfare and safety of all children in the household and within the family network;
  5. All relevant people, including the subject child/ren and parents, have been given appropriate opportunities to make a full contribution and that full consideration is given to the information they present;
  6. Reports of those not present are made known to parties;
  7. The child’s needs arising from disability, gender, race, culture or religion are fully considered when making decisions or developing plans;
  8. Appropriate arrangements are made to receive third party confidential information;
  9. A discussion takes place to consider whether there is a continuing risk of significant harm based on the information that has been presented to the conference;
  10. A summary of the relevant factors is provided to the conference to aid the discussion and the decision making process;
  11. All concerned are advised/reminded of the Complaints Procedure;
  12. Where a decision has been taken to exclude or restrict the level of parental or child participation, arrangements are made with the social worker for absent parents or carers to be informed of the decision and recommendations of conference.
11.4

The Decision Making Process

The need for a Child Protection Plan should be considered separately in respect of each child in the family or household.

The Conference should consider the following question when determining whether the threshold has been reached for the child to be subject to a Child Protection Plan.

Has the child at continuing risk of significant harm? And is the child likely to suffer Significant Harm?

The test for the likelihood of the child suffering Significant Harm in the future should be either that:

  • The child is shown to have suffered ill-treatment or impairment of health or development as a result of physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect, and professional judgement is that further ill-treatment or impairment are likely; or
  • Professional judgement, substantiated by finding of enquiries in this individual case or by research evidence, is that the child is likely to suffer ill treatment or the impairment of health or development as a result of physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect.

If the child is at continuing risk of Significant Harm, it will therefore be the case that safeguarding the child requires inter-agency help and intervention delivered through a Child Protection Plan.

The Conference Chairperson must ensure that the decision about the need for a Child Protection Plan is based on the views of all agencies represented at the conference and also takes into account any written contributions that have been made. This discussion will normally take place with the parents/carers present.

The decision will be taken by Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire Safeguarding Children Boards’ member agencies attending the conference; this will not include the child, parents and carers or their representatives/solicitors, although they may be asked to comment on the strengths, risks, future plans and protection.

The Conference Chairperson must ensure that all members of the conference are clear about the conclusions reached, the decision taken and recommendations made, and that the conference minutes accurately reflect the discussions and decision.

Where a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm in the future it is the local authority's duty to consider the evidence and decide what, if any, legal action to take. The information presented to the Child Protection Conference should inform that decision-making process but it is for the local authority to consider whether it should initiate, for example, Care Proceedings. Where a child who is the subject of a Child Protection Plan becomes Looked After, the Child Protection Plan should form part of the child's Care Plan.

11.5

Where there is Dissent from the Conference Decision

In cases where there is disagreement regarding whether the child is at continuing risk of significant harm, the Conference Chairperson will attempt to facilitate the conference to reach a consensus by drawing the conference members’ attention to the threshold and considering this in the light of the information which has been shared and the child’s assessed needs.

Where a consensus is not reached, the decision will be based on a majority view. Where there is no majority, the Conference Chairperson will decide.

In exceptional circumstances when the conference has decided that the child is not in need of a Child Protection Plan but the Conference Chairperson believes that the decision reached will not safeguard a child from Significant Harm, then the Conference Chairperson has the authority to change the decision.

If an agency does not agree with a decision or recommendation made at a conference, the dissent will be recorded in the minutes of the conference. The agency must nevertheless participate fully in any subsequent Child Protection Plan/Child in Need Plan.

If a professional concludes that a conference decision places a child at risk, s/he must seek advice from her/his Designated Professional or Named Professional or manager.

Where the issue is not resolved, the procedure provided in the Resolving Professional Disagreements Procedure may be followed.

If parents/carers disagree with the decision, the Conference Chairperson must discuss the outcome with them and explain their right to and the process for challenge – see Complaints Procedure

11.6

Categories of Abuse or Neglect

If the decision is that the child is at continuing risk of Significant Harm, which requires a Child Protection Plan, the Conference Chairperson should determine the category of abuse or neglect which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering.

The categories are:

  • Neglect: Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of a child’s health or development. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse. Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to:
    • Provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment);
    • Protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger;
    • Ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care-givers);
    • Ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment.
    It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child’s basic emotional needs. 
  • Physical abuse: This may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating, or otherwise causing physical harm to a child. Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces illness in a child;
  • Sexual abuse

    The following definition is taken from Working Together to Safeguard Children 2013.
    Sexual abuse is a form of Significant Harm which involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the Internet). Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children;

  • Emotional abuse
    The following definition is taken from Working Together to Safeguard Children 2013.
    Emotional abuse is a form of Significant Harm which involves the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child's emotional development.

    It may involve conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may include not giving the child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or "making fun" of what they say or how they communicate. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children.

    These may include interactions that are beyond the child's developmental capability, as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction. It may involve seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another. It may involve serious bullying (including cyberbullying) causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children.

    Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone.

The decision as to category should be made by the Conference Chairperson on the basis of the evidence presented to the Conference and the views of those present.

The category selected should reflect all the information obtained in the course of the Section 47 Enquiry and Social Work Assessment, and subsequent analysis, as well as that shared and discussed at the conference.

It will reflect the primary presenting of concern at the time the child is made subject to a Child Protection Plan. More than one category should only be used in very exceptional circumstances, at the discretion of the Conference Chairperson. However, the Conference Chairperson must be satisfied that more than one category is necessary to safeguard the child and each category should reach the evidential threshold.


12. If a Child is Made Subject of a Child Protection Plan

Where a child is to the subject of a Child Protection Plan, it is the responsibility of the conference to consider and make recommendations on how agencies, professionals and the family should work together to ensure that the child will be safeguarded from harm in the future. This should enable both professionals and the family to understand exactly what is expected of them and what they can expect of others. Specific tasks include:

  1. Identifying a Lead Social Worker who should be a qualified, experienced social worker;
  2. Identifying the membership of a Core Group of professionals and family members who will develop and implement the Child Protection Plan as a detailed working tool;
  3. Establishing how the child, their parents (including all those with parental responsibility) and wider family members should be involved in the ongoing assessment, planning and implementation process, and the support, advice and advocacy available to them;
  4. Establishing arrangements for meetings of the Core Group, production of the Child Protection Plan and for Child Protection Review Conference meetings;
  5. Identifying in outline what further action is required to complete the Social Work Assessment and what other specialist assessments of the child and family are required to make sound judgements on how best to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child;
  6. Outlining the Child Protection Plan – in particular identifying what needs to change in order to achieve the planned outcomes to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child;
  7. Ensuring a contingency plan is in place if agreed actions are not completed and/or circumstances change, for example if a caregiver fails to achieve what has been agreed, a court application is not successful or a parent removes the child from a place of safety;
  8. Clarifying the different purpose and remit of the Initial Child Protection Conference, the Core Group and the Child Protection Review Conference; and
  9. Agreeing a date for the first Child Protection Review Conference, and under what circumstances it might be necessary to convene the conference before that date.

The outline Child Protection Plan should:

  • Identify factors associated with the likelihood of the child suffering Significant Harm and ways in which the child can be protected through an inter-agency plan, based on the current findings from the assessment and information held from any previous involvement with the child and family;
  • Establish short-term and longer-term aims and objectives that are clearly linked to reducing the likelihood harm to the child and promoting the child’s welfare, including contact with family members;
  • Be clear about who will have responsibility for what actions – including actions by family members – within what specified timescales;
  • Outline ways of monitoring and evaluating progress against the planned outcomes set out in the plan; and
  • Be clear about which professional is responsible for checking that the required changes have taken place, and what action will be taken, by whom, when they have not.

When a conference concludes at the end of the working day, all agencies should take appropriate steps to ensure that the decision and recommendations are communicated appropriately within their own agency to ensure that the child is safeguarded.

See also Implementation of the Child Protection Plan Procedure.


13. If a Child is Assessed as not Being in Need of a Child Protection Plan

A child may not be made the subject of a Child Protection Plan, but he or she may nonetheless require services to promote his or her health or development. In these circumstances, the conference, together with the family, should consider the child’s needs and what further help would assist the family in responding to them. Subject to the family’s views and consent, it may be appropriate to continue with and complete a Social Work Assessment of the child’s needs to help determine what support might best help promote the child’s welfare. Where the child’s needs are complex, inter-agency working will continue to be important. Where appropriate, a Child in Need Plan should be drawn up and reviewed at regular intervals – no less frequent than every six months (see paragraphs 4.33 and 4.36 of the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families).


14. Minutes of Child Protection Conferences

The record of the conference is a crucial working document for all relevant professionals and the family.

All conferences will be minuted by a person whose sole task within the conference is to provide a written record of proceedings in a consistent format. The Conference Chairperson is responsible for ensuring that the minutes accurately reflect the discussion held and decision and recommendations made.

Conference minutes should include:

  1. Name, date of birth, ethnicity and address of the subject/s of the conference, parents/carers and other adults in the household;
  2. Whether the child attended and if not, why not;
  3. Other invitees, attendees and apologies;
  4. Any breaks in the Conference and anyone leaving or joining the meeting;
  5. The reason for the conference;
  6. A list of reports available to conference and whether open to parents or not;
  7. A summary of the information shared and discussion;
  8. Views and wishes of each child;
  9. Views of parents/carers;
  10. Opinions of agencies/professionals on the risk of continuing significant harm and the need for a Child Protection Plan;
  11. The decision whether a Child Protection Plan is required, with information outlining the reasons and the Categories of Abuse or Neglect;
  12. The outline Child Protection Plan, any Child in Need Plan or a plan for support through the local Early Help Assessment arrangements;
  13. The name of the Lead Social Worker if the child has a Child Protection Plan or, if they have a plan under the local Early Help Assessment arrangements, the name of a Lead Professional;
  14. Members of the Core Group if the child has a Child Protection Plan and date of first meeting;
  15. Date of next conference.

All reports submitted to the conference will be appended to the minutes, subject to confidentiality and relevance, which should be determined by the Conference Chairperson.

Where the decision of the conference is that the child is in need of a Child Protection Plan, details of the Categories of Abuse or Neglect, recommendations for the Child Protection Plan, the name of the Lead Social Worker and Core Group membership should be recorded and circulated to all those invited to attend the conference within ONE working day. Similarly, if a decision is made that the child does not require a Child Protection Plan but the family is in need of ongoing multi agency support, then the name of the Lead Professional/ social worker and the recommendations for the Child in Need Plan should be circulated within one working day.

The minutes of the conference, signed by the Conference Chairperson, will be sent to all professionals who attended, or were invited, and to relevant family members (except for any part of the conference from which they were excluded) within 10 working days of the conference.

Minutes relating to Closed Sessions (see Section 7.4, Closed Sessions/Suspensions) should only be distributed to those who were present during the closed session.

Extreme care should be taken to ensure the secure delivery of the minutes. Where postal services are not reliable they should be delivered by hand. This is the responsibility of the key worker. Electronic systems should only be used where they are known to be secure. 

Copies of the minutes should be given to the parents preferably by the Lead Social Worker in person who should explain and discuss to facilitate understanding.

A letter outlining the conference decision and recommendations and the reasons will be sent to the child from the Conference Chairperson and delivered to the child preferably by hand by the Lead Social Worker.

Where parents and/or the child/ren have a sensory and/or learning disability/communication difficulty or where English is not their first language, steps must be taken to ensure that they can understand and make full use of the minutes.

Where a parent or child has been fully excluded from the conference, the decision on what information they should receive will be taken by the Conference Chairperson in consultation with other conference members.

Where a supporter, solicitor, other family member or observer has attended a conference, the minutes will not be distributed to them unless they have a role in the Child Protection Plan and the conference agrees it appropriate.

Conference minutes are confidential and should not be passed to third parties, professional or otherwise, unless there is legal justification to do so.

Where there are ongoing criminal proceedings, there may need to be consultation between the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to the sharing of the minutes.

The recipient agencies and professionals should retain the minutes of the Child Protection Conference in a manner which ensures their confidentiality and in accordance with their agency’s record retention policy. Agencies should determine who should have access to the minutes – usually this will be restricted to relevant staff, their manager and any person who has a role in the Child Protection Plan. Minutes should not be reproduced without the permission of the conference chair

The central copy of the minutes will be retained for 30 years following the discontinuation of the Child Protection Plan.

Children (if of sufficient age and understanding) and/or parents on their behalf may have the right of access to their records held by the Children and Young People’s Services, subject to some statutory exemptions. 


15. Pre-Birth Conferences

A pre-birth conference is an Initial Child Protection Conference concerning an unborn child. Such a conference has the same status and purpose and must be conducted in a comparable manner to any other Initial Child Protection Conference.

Pre-birth conferences should be convened where a Section 47 Enquiry/Social Work Assessment gives rise to concerns that an unborn child may be at future risk of Significant Harm.

All agencies involved with the expectant mother should consider the need for an early referral to the Children and Young People’s Services so that assessments are undertaken and family support services provided as early as possible in the pregnancy – see the Referrals Procedure.

15.1

Timing of Pre-Birth Conferences

The pre-birth conference should take place at a time determined by the last Strategy Discussion and in any event by 32 weeks into the pregnancy to allow sufficient time for planning support for the baby and family and any protective action necessary. 

Where there is a known likelihood of a premature birth, the conference should be held earlier.

15.2

Attendance

The key professionals involved in the delivery of the child must attend the conference. In addition to those who normally attend an Initial Child Protection Conference, midwifery, relevant neo-natal and support services must be invited.

Parents or carers should be invited as they would be to other Child Protection Conferences and should be fully involved in plans for the child’s future.

15.3

An unborn child with a Child Protection Plan

If a decision is made that the unborn child is likely to be at risk of significant harm and requires a Child Protection Plan, the main cause for concern must determine the Categories of Abuse or Neglect. The Core Group must be established and a Child Protection Plan must be outlined to commence prior to the birth of the baby.

If a decision is made for an unborn child to have a Child Protection Plan, this should be recorded under the name “Unborn X” and the expected date of delivery should be recorded pending the birth. The Lead Social Worker must then ensure that the name and correct birth date is notified to the Designated Manager (Children with a Child Protection Plan).

If the child is born outside the area holding the Child Protection Plan, that local authority must be advised that the child is subject to a Child Protection Plan – see also Children Moving Across Local Authority Boundaries Procedure.

15.4

Timing of Review Conference

Child Protection Review Conference should proceed in the same way as for any other Child Protection Conference, with the first review taking place within three months of the initial conference.

End